EPA Slated to Protect Clean Air Nationwide from Fracking
Agency to Finalize Rules Today Pursuant to 2010 Settlement Agreement with WildEarth Guardians, San Juan Citizens Alliance
Mike Eisenfeld, San Juan Citizens Alliance New
Mexico Energy Coordinator, (505) 325-6724
Denver—Public health nationwide stands
to get a major boost today as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is
slated to sign new safeguards to limit air pollution from oil and gas drilling
The expected rules will target toxic air pollution,
ensure cost-effective clean air technologies are used throughout the oil and
gas industry, and strengthen a critical safety net for public health.
The proposal was spurred by a settlement agreement
reached with WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, in a
lawsuit where they were represented by the public interest law firm
Earthjustice. The settlement requires the EPA to follow through with its
mandatory duties under the Clean Air Act to keep air quality regulations up-to-date
On July 28, 2011, the EPA proposed a suite of new safeguards to
cost-effectively curb air pollution from fracking and drilling. Most, if
not all, of the proposed safeguards reduce air pollution by encouraging the oil
and gas industry to recover more oil and gas, a “win-win”
solution. Among the highlights of the EPA’s proposal, they
- Generate a net savings of $30 million annually
due to increased recovery of methane, otherwise known as natural gas.
- Reduce volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions
by 540,000 tons, an industry-wide reduction of 25%. VOCs react with
sunlight to form ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog and contain
other toxic compounds.
- Reduce methane emissions by 3.4 million tons,
which is equal to 65 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, a
reduction of about 26%. This will be like eliminating the carbon
dioxide emissions of 15 coal-fired power plants.
- Reduce toxic air pollutants, such as benzene, a
known carcinogen, by 38,000 tons, a 30% reduction.
It’s expected the new safeguards will yield similar
benefits and will comprehensively update current clean air rules. Current
regulations are woefully outdated, with some not updated since 1985, and fail
to adequately protect public health and welfare. In a 2010 presentation, the EPA noted that of the
24 significant air pollution sources associated with oil and gas production,
only six are covered by the current safeguards.
The rules are coming as oil and gas drilling and
franking is, in many cases, taking a tremendous toll on air quality. A
recent New York Times video highlights these impacts.
In western Colorado’s Garfield County for example,
oil and gas drilling has increased by more than 132 percent since 2004, brining
more than 7,000 new wells to the region. According to the State of Colorado’s
emission inventory data, oil and gas operations in the County are responsible
for more than 67% percent of all benzene emissions—a known carcinogen.
Studies by the state show that Garfield County residents face higher health
risks because of this, in some cases facing an “unacceptable” cancer risk.
These findings were confirmed by a peer-reviewed
study slated to be published in the Journal, Science of the Total Environment, which
found that people living near fracking face increased health risks due to
benzene and other toxic compounds.
Unfortunately, current federal regulations fail to
limit benzene and other toxic emissions from fracking in order to protect
Nationwide, the safeguards will be the first step
toward protecting communities in a number of states with oil and gas
operations, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Alaska, and Texas.
Because state air quality regulations must at least be as stringent as
federal regulations, the final rules will provide a critical important safety
net for public health.